Debate No. 348,903 Tonight!

Just kidding. There haven’t been that many. It just seems that way.

Anyway, we’re back to the same old candidates. No more Gary Johnson to liven up the field. Just Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Michelle Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum.

The substance, at least, should be interesting. The debate, hosted by Bloomberg TV and the Washington Post, will focus on the economy. Cain has passed Perry in the two most recent polls (Gallup and WaPo/Bloomberg) and Romney’s lead is tenuous at best. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Cain will become the front runner. It hinges on his performance tonight and how badly the other candidates beat up Romney.

I’m skeptical as to whether the Mormon question will come up.

It’s been in the news lately because a prominent pastor, with ties to Rick Perry, called Mormonism a ‘cult.’ The pastor, Robert Jeffress, introduced Perry at a conference for Christian conservatives. Perry’s campaign has stated that the governor doesn’t agree that Mormonism is a cult.

That wasn’t quite enough for Romney, though. After accepting the boost of Chris Christie‘s endorsement earlier today, Romney called on Perry to repudiate the pastor because of his remarks. Perry has refused, with his spokesman calling it a deflection.

“[Perry] is going to continue to focus on the economy, jobs and the issues that matter to the people of this country.”

Still, the moderators are unlikely to ask a question about it. They’re planning to focus on more serious economic questions. It’s possible another candidate might bring it up obliquely but… as Will McGurn pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, good conservatives should cite Article VI of the Constitution in reference to questions about religion. Of course, that doesn’t apply for atheists or secret Muslims, but still.

I could well be proved wrong. We’ll see. Watch the debate live online at the Washington Post and Bloomberg News.

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